1 Mumbai, India

India is an exercise in sensory overload wherever you might wind up on the subcontinent. The mad blur of colours, noises and tastes is dizzying – and, especially in its largest city, the stink is intoxicating, too.

Fittingly for Mumbai, India’s epicentre of jumbled mayhem – where the rich fill swanky bars and the poor pack into slums, where grand colonial buildings are the backdrop to frantic bazaars, and where the multi-coloured mysticism of Hinduism rubs up against the monochrome austerity of Islam – the smells range from the sublime 
to the sickening.

The air is thick with the scent of India’s spices – cinnamon, cardamom, clove. It’s also clouded by exhaust fumes from the capital’s traffic-jammed roads, the smell of stagnant water rising from the gutters, invigorating salty sea air, piles of rotting vegetables steaming mounds of cow shit (as the sacred animals can wander wherever they please), and the collective body odour of Mumbai’s 20.5m sweaty citizens dashing about their business in the tropical heat. Sure, Mumbai reeks, but what else would you expect from such an energetically manic metropolis? The only solution is to dive in.

Get swept away in the city’s labyrinthine bazaars, check out the incongruously litter-free Chowpatty Beach, escape to the serene cave temples of Elephanta Island in the middle of Mumbai harbour, then party among India’s most famous Bollywood stars until dawn.

Still standing? Good, because there’s plenty more to see. Promenade hand-in-hand as the sun sets at Marine Drive, gawp at the private palaces and exclusive apartments of Malabar Hill, and be sure to make time for the best of Mumbai’s exhilarating music, theatre and dance movements.

But whatever you do, it will be accompanied by the smell of the city – an unforgettable perfume mixed from an eclectic bundle of human life, at once thrilling and repellent.

Mumbai couldn’t, and shouldn’t, smell any other way.


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2 Laguna Colorada, Bolivia

This deep-red lagoon in the southwest of the altiplano in Bolivia is a stunning sight, backed by dark-brown volcanoes and frequented by flamingos.

But good as it may look, Laguna Colorada’s smell doesn’t quite match up. The eggy stench of sulphur hangs around the water – a hazard of volcano country – so you might want to photograph it from a distance. Most tours of Bolivia’s salt flats that take off from Tupiza swing by this natural wonder.


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3 Fes, Morocco

Fes might be the largest inhabited 
Arab medieval city in the world, but 
it’s also one of the smelliest.

In the heart of Fes el-Bali, the walled old town, the iconic Chouwara tanneries impact the nose as much as the eyes. Rows of colourful vats used to dye animal skin throw up the stink of pigeon poo – the ammonia from which is used to strip the skins.

Breathe it in and be glad you’re not one of the guys standing knee-deep in these vats all day long.


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4 Ijen Volcano, Java

In Indonesia, you can actually see how rancid-smelling this volcano is, 
as plumes of yellow steam billow from the sulphur mine that operates around the volcano’s acid crater-lake. 

Spare a thought for the workers who spend their days hacking chunks of rotten-egg-smelling sulphur from the mine – work so bad for the body that, if exposed for long enough, the fumes can dissolve teeth. Also, maybe resist snapping this sight – sulphur can corrode a camera within minutes.


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5 Seal Island, South Africa

Home to 60,000 seals, it’s not surprising that this small island off the north beaches of False Bay, near Cape Town, smells so funky.

The stench of rotting flesh, fish and the shit of 60,000 seals might not sound too appetising, but it doesn’t put off the great white sharks that circle the island in search of dinner. You can visit the island and marvel at this massive collection of cute cape fur seals – but be warned: you’ll probably see a fair few of them get eaten, too.